As we have discussed, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 requires that agencies inform FOIA requesters that they can ask for assistance from OGIS and an agency’s FOIA Public Liaison (FPL) throughout the request process. But what kind of help can requesters expect to receive from FPLs and OGIS?
While FOIA gives both OGIS and agency FPLs responsibility for resolving disputes that arise from the FOIA process, our roles are distinct in one important way: OGIS acts as a neutral third party to a dispute. Our independence from the agency enables us to mediate disputes between agencies and requesters and defines the kind of assistance we can provide.
As the FOIA Ombudsman, we work to improve public understanding of the FOIA process; we fulfill this role using tools like the resources section of our website, our blog and our Twitter feed. We also regularly answer questions from individual requesters about the FOIA process and suggest the proper agency to receive a request. FPLs, on the other hand, can provide valuable insight into the kinds of records that an agency has on a certain topic, the agency’s record keeping systems, or which offices might have responsive records.
FPLs can also assist with a request that has been previously submitted. For instance, the FPL can help a requester reformulate and streamline a request, resulting in a quicker response and minimized fees. FPLS can also provide information about the status of requests, including an estimated date of completion. If a requester cannot contact the agency FOIA Public Liaison, we can reach out on the requester’s behalf; we can also act as a third party to help facilitate a discussion about the scope of the request, the agency’s search for records, fees, et cetera. We can also help a requester understand the agency’s actions on a request and explain the importance of the appeals process to protecting administrative rights.
As a non-exclusive alternative to litigation, OGIS is well-suited to assist requesters who still dispute the agency’s actions after the agency has acted on an appeal. In particular, OGIS can help by providing requesters with additional information or a more thorough explanation of the agency’s actions. OGIS’s facilitators can also help resolve the dispute or narrow the issues through our mediation services.
Do you have a specific question about how we might be able to help resolve your FOIA issue? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 202-741-5770 (toll free: 1-877-684-6448). You can also write to us at:
National Archives and Records Administration
Office of Government Information Services
8601 Adelphi Road – OGIS
College Park, MD 20740-6001